Listening to Your Life Finding God in Unexpected Places: Longing for Home with Rev. Kally Elliott
A Part of the Series:
Jun 27, Listening to Your Life Finding God in Unexpected Places: Longing for Home.
While traveling last week, the man seated next to me asked, Where’s home, Bend, Oregon? I replied, That’s where I live. But that wasn’t what this stranger was asking. No, I mean, where is home? Which left me wondering, I’ve had several homes, places, people to whom I belong and to whom in some sense belong to me. But lately, the big sky that the rivers and the mountains, the people of Bend are making this place feel more and more like home.
Frederick Buechner writes, The word home summons up a place, more specifically a place where you feel you belong. And that, in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well, even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment throughout the pandemic and during this summer, many people have and will move to Bend… Retirees, families, those who are partnered and those who are not, those who hope to start over to find themselves to scratch that itch for adventure, those who long for a smaller town or slower pace, they will have hopes for what their new life will look like.
And they may be nervous, lonely or scared. Come September, our schools will be filled with kids who are desperately wondering if they will have to sit alone at lunch grieving the loss of their old friends, their old school, their old life. Come September, there will be worried parents. Are my kids going to be welcomed? Will we be able to make a life here? Come September? There will be those who moved here by themselves, trying meet up groups, hoping to find community.
There will be those who moved here with a spouse who was ill, wondering where they might find support. There will be many excited for this new life, but also finding their insides being squeezed with anxiety and a longing for this place to feel a little more like home. And then come September, we will worship in our sanctuary in person together at last. But when we look around at those sharing a pew with us, we might find ourselves wondering who the heck these people are.
A year and a half later, our church may not look or feel like the church home we left back in March, 2020. But it’s not just those who are new to a location or those who find themselves wondering who is sitting next to them in a church pew who long for home. We all feel like a stranger. Sometimes looking for a place to belong, to be lonely is to be aware of an emptiness that takes more than people to fill.
It is to sense that something is missing, which you cannot name, writes Buechner. Did you know that loneliness has become such a problem in the UK that in 2018 they appointed a minister for loneliness tasked with addressing loneliness as a public health concern? I can only imagine how busy that Minister must be now after 2020. Think about how you have sought connection this week, maybe through conversation or sharing meals with friends and family, maybe by scrolling through social media bingeing on Netflix.
Where have you searched for a sense of home this week only to be met with disappointment or hollowness? Loneliness. We are all strangers searching for a sense of home. When Jesus talked about the deep connection we are all longing for, he used the imagery of home in John 15. He says, Make your home in me just as I do in you. This is the way to life. Find your home in the intimacy of my love. That was and is his continual invitation.
When I was a college pastor, an elderly woman named Mary used to join us for worship most Sunday evenings. Mary, always about 15 minutes late, would bump her way to the center of the gathered chairs plopped down and almost immediately begin snoring. When she woke, she would join the students for dinner in the basement of the house, all the while critiquing both the sermon and the food. Students asked her why she bothered to join us if she didn’t like it.
At 80 plus, she was a bit older than the young adults we normally served. Pretending she didn’t hear their question, Mary would settle herself more deeply into her chair, remaining there for hours after dinner, listening to the students talk regularly, chiming in with her own contrary opinions. Mary had a house. I know this because I took her to her house one night. But Mary’s deepest need for home was more than four walls and a roof over her head.
And without that sense of home, her loneliness was untouched. Every time he encountered another, no matter who they were or what they needed from him, Jesus invited people to find that sense of home in and through him. And he said it in lots of different ways to the crowd searching for for him, he said, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry until the Samaritan woman at the well. He says everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.
But whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again. And in the morning after the resurrection, when just at dawn on the beach, he is waiting by a charcoal fire. He calls out to his fisherman friends, Hey, hey, come and have breakfast. And in that first light, they come and they eat what he has prepared for them, breakfast, of all things, and to the crowds and to every last one of us. He says, Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest live in me, make your home in me just as I do in you.
We’re in this sermon series called Listening to Your Life, based on a quote by Frederick Buechner. Well, last week, I was visiting Tennessee, a place and a people who have been home for me, my friends Jacqueline and Katherine invited me into their home for dinner to meet the three children they recently began fostering. As I sat at the table with them, witnessing how well they loved, listened, disciplined and cared for these children. My heart was bursting with pride and amazement at how lovingly my friends were making home for and in these kids.
And as I began listening to my own life. To the experience of sitting around a dinner table with this this miracle happening in front of me, I found I had to write about it, to share it. So I asked if I could interview Katherine and Jaclyn about their experience.
Here is their story. Jacqueline and Katherine, I’m so glad you two could meet with me last week, you invited me into your own home to meet your three, three kids that you are taking care of now. And I’ve known you, too, for a long time. But what I was I was just so taken aback, not taken aback, but taken you stirred something in me, in my heart when I saw you interacting with these kids and loving them and caring for them and treating them just as your own.
But before we get into that, I want to hear a little bit about your own story as a couple, knowing that you both grew up in the church, that faith has been a huge part of who you are. Can you just tell me a little bit about your own story?
Sure, sure, so we like you said, we both grew up in the Presbyterian Church. We actually met at a Presbyterian summer camp in middle Tennessee. And then I think that is kind of when also around the same time that I was kind of falling in love with ministry and like figuring out my fall. I was a youth director at the time and realized that, like, I wanted to be in ministry long term, but I was still trying to come to terms with and figure out my sexuality.
I was not out to anyone but my sister and one close friend. And so meeting Catherine kind of, I guess, stirred something in me that helped me accept who I was and also find that place in the church after I met Catherine. She was living in Knoxville, going to school. So I moved to Knoxville and I got involved at work at that Presbyterian campus ministry where you were working at the time. And I’ve never met, you know, even being part of a Presbyterian church.
I do live in South and I’ve never met a group of people that was so inclusive and made me feel at home like I did when I was there. And I haven’t left there since I started coming. So that that has been a home for me and I enjoy making that a home for college students. Now, my story is very similar to Jaclyn’s, obviously, but I also grew up in the Presbyterian Church. And I think a lot of the big part of the reason that my faith is so, so strong is because I am one of the very few lucky people and lucky members of the LGBTQ community that has not necessarily felt a lot of rejection from any of my faith communities.
And I consider myself very lucky to to be someone to not have had that experience of hurt and rejection and pain from a faith community and very thankful that I have always been a part of the Presbyterian Church or campus ministry or youth group that has accepted me for who I was.
I want to I want to hear our theme has been listening to your life. It’s a quote by Frederick Buechner. And I want to hear from you to how you two were listening to your life as you came to say yes, to going from no kids to three kids who are school age, and that when all of a sudden I get this text like, hey, we’re getting three kids. But what prompted that? How were you listening? What what how was God speaking to you in that?
As a teacher? I have I have taught many, many students that are in the foster care system. And it’s heartbreaking for family members and for teachers and for classmates for us to come to school one day and our students not be there anymore. And we get, you know, a note or an email saying, hey, folks, move schools. We didn’t get any goodbyes. You know, these kinds of situations, unfortunately, happen a lot. And I was told that one of my students and her siblings are going to be put into to foster care.
You know, I just was telling Jaclyn how sad I was that this student was going to be leaving our school family and our classroom family and and how much I think I would just be wondering, you know, what is her life like? Where is she? Who she with? Is she safe? And through a lot of conversation, we decided we would talk to their aunt who had custody of them at the time and discuss if we could even meet their needs.
You know, foster care wasn’t really something that we had ever considered, but having children was I think a big part of that also had to do with knowing in the back of our minds that we do have a big community around us. And we knew that we would provide we could be able we would be able to provide them a home, but also provide them with the community of people that love them and cared for them even before they met them.
Is this the sort of situation that you kind of have to be paying attention? Every day, moment by moment, to continue to say yes to the situation, I mean, is it has it been easy? Is it that hard? Is it?
It’s definitely not been easy. I mean, they’re easy to love, that’s for sure. But, I mean, there is a lot of trauma. There’s a lot of emotions. We had we supervised the visits that they have with their mother.
So I’m curious, how are you how do you feel that you are creating a sense of home for them, for these kids?
The kids have never had a stable home, you know, really since they’ve been alive, especially the youngest. He his mom has told us that she has, in a sense, been homeless since he was born. He just turned six years old. And so an important thing to us is that they know that, like, they call this home, like this is their home. And like, you know, they’re you know, he’ll say, like, my bedroom, well, it’s my bedroom because that’s where I sleep.
And we want them to know that, yeah, that is your room. That’s not just a temporary space like that is we’ve let them pick out decorations for their rooms and and just letting them know that they have ownership of certain things and that they belong somewhere and that, you know, this is a safe place, stable place that they can come every day. You know, they can go get their toys out anytime they want. They can get the games out any time they want, just feeling like they’re not a guest in this home and doing whatever we can to make sure they feel like they’re not a guest here, that this is their home, too.
And so, you know, part of that is doing chores and taking care of the home and having, you know, games and toys and clothes where they can get to them, not always us getting them out and making them feel like they have to ask permission for things like that. For children that haven’t had a whole lot of stability and routine in their life, a routine is routine, is very comforting to them, knowing what’s going to happen next and knowing how each day is going to go and what’s going to happen each day and how are they creating a sense of home for you?
We have never had kids before, and so it just brings this like life to the to our home that we’ve never known before. It’s also exhausting, but in the best kind of way. And it’s just like, I don’t know, we get to experience things in a different way. We get to experience this home in a different way than we have before, like where there’s toys, we step on toys or, you know, they’ve left their water bottle out on the counter or just things that like before them.
I mean, it was always I’m a very tidy person. So everything had its place and it’s been a lot to get used to. But it’s I walk around sometimes and I’ll get frustrated just how messy it is. But then I remind myself, like we have a family, you know, we have kids that are living here. It may not be forever. So soak it in while while we have it. So and also just the love that they give us and the, you know, the hugs and kisses and the wanting to cuddle and the, you know, wanting to be nexxus all the time or wanting us to get in, wanting to get in the bed with us in the morning when they wake up really and asking us to bring their breakfast in our bed because they don’t want to get out of our bed once we’ve gotten the feeling, feeling very fulfilled from the love that they give us.
You know, I was thinking about this and I was going I was trying to think through what am I going to preach about what what scripture am I going to use? What am I get, you know, all of that. And and I was going back to the quote, the listen to your life quote. And what I came up what just kept coming up in me was if I listened to my life, it was this last week being in Tennessee and being invited into your home and to see and to be with you as you parent these kids.
I was listening to that experience and that experience just kept coming to me because it was just so to me. It was like it was just so amazing. And so if I when I went back and looked at listen to your life, it was that moment at your dinner table watching you with these kids, how you are making home for them and how they are making home for you. So thank you for the work you’re doing and for the love you’re giving them.
So and thanks for being here today with me.
Yeah. Thank you for being part of our tribe.
Home is more than four walls and a roof. Home is more than a beautiful town and nice people. Home is where you can rest in the intimacy of the love of God, knowing that you belong right there. In his book Longing for Home, Buechner writes, I cannot claim that I found the home I longed for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart, I have found and have maybe always known the way that leads to it.
I believe that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our practical ways through the world in search of it. Amen.